Encounters at Pakke Kesang - land of the Nyishis

The area is mountainous with altitudes varying from 1,000 to 1,800 metres, unlike the lower regions of Pakke, which are primarily low altitude foothills and plains.

Published: 08th October 2013 12:56 PM  |   Last Updated: 08th October 2013 01:11 PM   |  A+A-

Pakke-Kesang-landscape

I have been visiting Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh for over four years now. The Tiger Reserve is huge, covering 861 sq km, and one of my desires was to visit the higher reaches of the reserve to check out the area, the people and bio-diversity. This desire was finally fulfilled last month when I spent 10 days visiting the Pakke Kesang area at the northeastern edge of the reserve. The area is mountainous with altitudes varying from 1,000 to 1,800 metres, unlike the lower regions of Pakke, which are primarily low altitude foothills and plains.

If getting to Seijosa, the headquarters of Pakke Tiger Reserve, was tough (a 7-8 hour journey by road from Guwahati), getting to Pakke Kesang was even more arduous!

From Seijosa, where I normally visit, it is a ten-hour journey by road to get to Pakke Kesang. The East Kameng district in which Pakke Kesang is located is sparsely populated. The dominant tribe here are the Nyishis. They are among the largest tribes in Arunachal Pradesh with a population of about 3,00,000 people.

As we drove into Pakke Kesang at the end of our ten-hour journey, green cultivated fields surrounded by densely clad hill forests greeted us.

The area looked serene; there were only a few people on the street as we drove to our residence — a dilapidated inspection bungalow. The air smelt fresh and clean and despite our long journey, we felt alive and invigorated by our surroundings!

The Nyishi’s main occupation is agriculture. The tribe basically practises jhum or shifting cultivation (sometimes also called slash-and-burn cultivation), which involves burning down parts of the forest and cultivating the land vacated for agriculture.

Traditionally, the tribes would cultivate the land, and then move to another part of the forest, allowing the cultivated land to be re-generated. Traditionally, jhum cultivation allowed sufficient time for cultivated land to be regenerated, with the cycles between cultivation being as long as seven years. Nowadays, with increasing population, the time for regeneration has been reducing, creating problems of depleting forests, and reducing soil fertility.

Our visit to the Pakke Kesang area evoked a lot of interest. Most of the Nyishis were at first curious and then friendly. I had three friends accompanying me — two of who, like me, were above 50 years in age.

The local people we met were intrigued by the fact that the four of us had travelled hundreds of kilometres from places as distant as Kanyakumari, Dehradun and Mumbai to visit a location as remote as Pakke Kesang. “Aap budhe log itna door kyon aaye hain?” was an oft-asked question! To add to their consternation, we told them that we were here to study barbingsala and pijing (which is what butterflies and moths are respectively called in Nyishi).

This got us a lot of headshakes, and Asterix-Obelix style “these people must be crazy!” reactions! The 10 days we spent were an adventure, so buckle up and wait for my next piece to hear some of our stories from Pakke Kesang over the next few weeks!

Feedback and queries are welcome at sanjay.sondhi1@gmail.com

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